Following a busy and optimistic weekend, the outlook going into the holiday shopping season and next year remains upbeat.
“Central, Main-Dempster Mile, and Downtown all reported brisk sales and lots of foot traffic,” on the combined Black Friday and Small Business Saturday weekend, said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development division manager.
Business leaders in the city echoed that sentiment.
“I was happy with the foot traffic I saw,” said Katherine Gotsick, executive director for the Main-Dempster Mile district. However, she added that it was still below pre-pandemic levels.
Like Downtown and Central Street, the Main-Dempster Mile district had gift cards for shoppers who spent $100 or more. Gotsick said the demand for gift cards, which were quickly snatched up, doubled this year from 2021.
Inflation worries push shoppers to deals, offers
However, with inflation a looming concern, economists and businesses remain wary of the future, as customers with squeezed pockets look for deals and savings.
“Of the people that I saw on Saturday, people were deliberate and less impulsive about what they were buying,” Gotsick said.
She added, however, that unlike other areas, “we do have a large population that has a high median income,” which means they are less likely to feel the pinch of increased prices.
Further, “Evanston is not a monolith or one consumer base,” Zalmezak said. Some consumers, he added, would be less affected by the economic turbulence.
While businesses are hoping for a continued brick-and-mortar revival, “there’s still competition from e-commerce,” he said. A recent survey found that more than half of the consumers who participated prefer online shopping to in-store purchases.
With regard to this holiday season, Zalmezak said there’s a lag of a couple of months before retail numbers are revealed next spring.
“I think our biggest uncertainty we’re nervous about is return to work,” he said.
Downtown Evanston, for instance, is facing a shortage of between 20,000 and 25,000 office workers in a half-mile radius, according to Zalmezak. Their absence, he said, impacts stores in the area, especially food and drink establishments.
On the whole, however, the economic outlook for the city looks positive going into next year, he said. “Evanston is poised to have relative stability during what is predicted to be an upcoming recession,” he said.
Earlier this year, the city introduced a plan to revitalize Evanston’s eight business districts. The plan is slated to be implemented in January.